Saturday, May 24, 2014

Does the 'Ghost of Mary Watkins' still roam Mount Pleasant?

George 'Buster' Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled "The ghost of Mary Watkins,” was originally published in the Oct. 25, 1990 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

The only skirmish of the Civil War fought on Monroe County soil took place near the community of Mount Pleasant. On April 10, 1865, a brigade of Union soldiers under the command of Gen. T.J. Lucas was making its way from Spanish Fort on a foliage mission (picking up food and horse feed from the local population) and to occupy the old fort located at Claiborne.

The 15th Confederate Regiment (mounted) was aware of this movement and had formulated plans to ambush the Union brigade as it was making a creek crossing near the community of Mount Pleasant. The 15th Rebel unit was not the best trained group in the Confederate Army. They were what was known as a “Home Guard” unit. Most of the members were either too old or too young to serve elsewhere; these units were organized to protect the homes and property of the local population.

The Confederate commander, Col. Henry Maubry of Mobile, did not know that the Union brigade also had a battery of rifled cannon with the Union troops that were to occupy the old fort atop the high river banks near the town of Claiborne. Unaware of this, Col. Maubry placed his men in an ambush position across the creek, out in front of the advancing Union columns. As the Yankees crossed the creek, the Rebels were to open fire and drive them back into the swollen creek and the deep sticky mud that surrounded it.

Gen. Lucas had placed the rifled cannons so as to lay a fire of cover ahead of his army, just in the event something like this might happen. The 15th Rebel unit lay in wait in the high grass and bushes in the adjoining open field as the Yankees began to cross the swollen creek.

The Union cannon fire cut the poorly trained Rebels to pieces as they tried to retreat back across the open field and to safety. The dead and the wounded were left to the mercy of the advancing Union forces; those who would put as much distance as possible between them and the enemy.

After the crossing was made, Gen. Lucas gave orders to bury the dead Confederates in a mass burial trench. No effort was made to identify the battle dead. Only the freshly turned earth gave evidence of the location of the mass burial.

Among those killed in the skirmish was Corporal Ezekiel Watkins. His body, along with some 40 or 50 others, was placed in the mass burial trench by the Union soldiers. Witnesses related to Mary Watkins, his wife, that he fell in battle during the first cannon fire that hit the open field where the Rebels lay in ambush.

As the days passed after the battle, many members of the families of the slain Rebel soldiers came and dug into the mass burial place to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones and carry them home for reburial among their own kin. Each time that the burial trench was opened, Mary Watkins was there, looking and searching for the body of her slain husband. Finally, those unclaimed were taken and buried close by near the fence of a local cemetery that is still in use today.

But Cpl. Ezekiel Watkins was never found. Weeks turned into months, and the cold winter evenings would find Mary Watkins, wrapped in an old Rebel Army overcoat, looking, ever looking, around and through the high weeds for the remains of her beloved husband who had fallen there in battle.

Even during the nights of the full moon, the light of a lantern could be seen as Mary Watkins searched onward into the night for her lost husband. And, as the early morning light gradually crept across the open field where the battle took place, one could find freshly dug holes where Mary Watkins had sought to recover her husband’s remains.

Then, one cold winter evening, Mary Watkins joined her husband. She was found dead as she was preparing to dig yet another hole in the continued search for the man she loved. Beside her still body lay her shovel and the old lantern which provided the pale light for her as she searched in vain.

Many years have passed since Mary Watkins walked the field where this Civil War battle was fought. The field has been plowed over many, many times. Today this field is covered with tall weeds and underbrush, just as it was on that fateful day the 15th Confederate Regiment tried to take the Union brigade by surprise.

But there are those who say, if you look closely when passing down the road nearby during the hours of darkness, you might see the dim, pale light from Mary Watkins’ lantern as she searches ever onward for the body of Ezekiel Watkins, her beloved husband.

And those who have seen the ghost lady say that the old Rebel overcoat is still wrapped around her shoulders as she continues to dig for the remains of the husband that fell in battle somewhere in this field many years ago.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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